Thursday, August 04, 2005

Beverly A. Jackson

After several years of running one of the classiest and most revered lit mags in the country, publisher/editor Beverly Jackson is closing up shop at Ink Pot. (for a full explanation, see here.) The magazine was a constant source of enrichment for readers, and a prized jewel for writers. With its gorgeous artwork, lush poetry, and high quality fiction, it was both an online venue and print market that showcased some of the best talent in the literary world. They were also a boutique publisher in the form of Lit Pot Press, Inc., offering some of the most cutting edge fiction and poetry books around, such as Terri Brown-Davidson's Marie, Marie, Hold on Tight, Joseph Faria's The Way Home, and the latest, Bloodletting & Fruits of Lebanon, novellas by J. Eric Miller. (a recent interview with Miller can be found here.) Ink Pot the magazine takes its final bow this October, though the website will remain online for another year and they will continue to sell single copies of their books.

But don't expect Ms. Jackson to slow down. An avid blogger, poet and writer herself, I expect we'll be hearing much more about her as she gets back to chasing her own muses. She already has an amazing, jealousy-inducing list of credits for both her poetry and fiction, including such high-cachet magazines as Night Train, Bonfire, Prairie Dog, Neo, and Riven. Online, you can find a full list of her work right here. But a few of my favorites are her recent entry into the Absinthe Literary Review (Eros and Thanatos issue) with "The Day Room", her 2004 Best American Short Story nominee "The Dead", her first place contest winner for Tattoo Highway "La Cucaracha", and "A Trip to the Grocer's".

The force of her stories and often dark edge in her writing are seemingly at odds with her classy and generous personality. But the graceful prose is a perfect match. See for yourself.

1) Who are some of your favorite writers, and how do you think they've influenced you?

I have loved very diverse writers—from my childhood and teen years: Thomas Hardy, Graham Greene, and a romance writer Frank Yerby—to college years: Samuel Beckett, Saul Bellow, J.D. Salinger—to adulthood (spanning decades): Albee, Tom Robbins, Oates, Joan Didion, TC Boyle, Jim Crace, John Fowles, Cheever, -- oh, there’s just too many I love. I doubt that any one writer has directly influenced me while I think perhaps the whole of their creative bravery gives me the courage to set words to paper.

2) What do you think is your greatest strength or asset in your writing? Your biggest weakness or flaw?

I can’t see assets or strengths in my own work. I only see that it is never finished, never quite what I intended, and never good enough or true enough. It’s my biggest flaw, my lack of confidence.

3) When you would be looking at pieces with an editor's eye, did you ever catch yourself thinking, "Damn! I wish I'd written that!"? And were those the pieces you were most likely to then show off and publish? Or did you try to keep a more "universal" appeal in mind? Also, Lit Pot always had incredible artwork – was that reflective of your own personal tastes, or do you just have a keen eye?

Almost every excellent piece I read, I wish I’d written! I so love the work, and so relish the fine
output of good writing that I do covet it, cherish it in my heart. I wanted to publish everything I liked. I really didn’t consider universal appeal. My staff could talk me into things that they thought were worthy if it wasn’t my taste— but on my own, I only chose work I loved or near-loved. I have an incredible staff of editors who are also writers who sensed immediately what Ink Pot was all about, so most often we concurred. Part of my thrust was to publish newcomers and help nearly-there writers to have the confidence to keep writing. That was the real joy in all of it.

Re the artwork: I never took my writing seriously, though I’d written all my life. I had a creative urge—that much I knew. I was an actress in New York for a few years. I did a lot of crafts (including opening a shop/school called “Sheepish Arts” which sold needlepoint yarns and macramé materials) when I was married and also keeping house. (don’t you love old fashioned words like ‘keeping house?’) Then later, I studied painting in L.A., and always loved doing collage, acrylic abstracts and pastel portraits. My oldest friend once said, “you know I love your art, but you really should go back to your writing.” That astounded me. I never thought anyone even noticed. I took her advice and started writing again. But the love of art and hand-made crafts is always with me. I wanted incredible artists and poets(so many unsung!) to be featured in Lit Pot and Ink Pot as well as writers.

4) While working on Lit Pot/Ink Pot, I'm wondering if your own creative energy for writing took a nosedive. Did you often find yourself overwhelmed with the "job" and therefore unable to write? And, more importantly – are you looking forward to getting back in the rhythm and being able to write?

Actually, I think I got more serious work done while I was working on the journal than I did before or since. There’s a momentum that gathers with the ‘dream,’ being immersed in such creative endeavors and surrounded by others who are working so hard toward like goals. I got 35,000 words of a novel done in my spare time (of which there was none). What did seem to take a dive was the writing of poetry which had always sustained me. But editing and publishing during that almost five-year stretch changed everything in me. I wouldn’t be surprised if my DNA has changed, so I am rather looking forward to what will happen with solitude and free time. I’m not quite there yet. Ink Pot Issue No. 7 is on the fire, and I’m still in the midst of a kind of mourning. I don’t want to reverse the outcome, but there is an odd kind of celebratory sadness at the loss of what we shared and built together.

5) Running a magazine is a very "giving" sort of endeavor that requires quite a bit of generosity of spirit. Was this something that you think kept you going – the happiness you got from giving a boost to up-and-comers, or was the drive more about giving something to the readers? And now that you'll be going back to writing, do you think you'll find that same sort of reward in producing your own work?

Our whole mission was to support writers by getting their work read, and by treating them to the respect and consideration they deserved and so often did not receive at the hands of other publications. We refused to keep writers waiting for longer than one or two weeks (and usually less) for acceptances and rejections. We really wanted to support talented unknowns as well as put out a high quality journal that would attract a following. Our choices leaned toward dark and edgy literary work and we didn’t apologize for the narrowness of our tastes. A following did grow miraculously and so by following our own mission, we found both rewards.

6) Stock question: Dinner with anyone, dead or alive. Who is it?

I might have answered this very differently a few years ago, but today I must say that it would be
thrilling if I could sit down with Herman Melville, after we’d had a large bottle of wine (so he could get past the gender and era differences.) I read Moby Dick for the first time this year, and it was a love/hate relationship that has now even attached itself to my novel in progress. Also since I’m a little tongue-tied around celebrities, I think he’d hold up the fascinating conversation all by himself.

7) One CD, one book, one DVD and a desert island. What book, CD, and DVD do you take?

CD – Lee Morgan’s “Night in Tunisia” (jazz trumpet)

Book –"The Complete New Yorker : Eighty Years of the Nation's Greatest Magazine" (not yet published, but I’ve got it on order. That should keep me busy for awhile.)

DVD – Wim Wenders’ (1988) “Wings of Desire”

8) Other than fiction writing, what's the biggest lie you ever told?

Well, see, I think that most of ‘real life’ is a lie, and that fiction is where we find the ‘real truth.’
That’s why I love writing and writers, and all art for that matter, because it is where truth lives, from my point of view. I mean, in life, don’t we all feel like frauds? Or is that only me? If you read physics or quantum mechanics, you know that what we ‘see’ isn’t real; you know from psychology that we all wear masks and are different personalities depending on who we’re with; we know from history and economics that society is fraught with misinformation, spin, advertising, propaganda, myth, and lies. But somehow when you read and write good fiction, an authentic self leaps out of the bullshit, to deliver the real goods. That’s how I see it anyway, which is why good art is so hard to find and so hard to do. So the biggest lie I ever told is ‘my whole life’ in one way or another. All the posturing, pretending, and civilized intercourse that one does to keep from screaming and biting off the faces of the people who don’t ‘get’ who you are. But then if they read a good story . . . suddenly they see something they never saw in you before. It’s magical. I married twice. One was an artist. One was an actor. No accident, that.
And I think it’s why readers read . . . we’re all hungry seekers of truth.

I once told a man I was pregnant (when I wasn’t) with another man’s child, hoping he would hate me (thus relieving me of my cowardice to break up with him.) Instead he wanted to marry me and raise my child. That was a lie wrapped in a selfish lie, wrapped in a likely debacle. If I write the story, it will be the truth about that lie. Does that make sense? Or is this just another lie?

9) You can't have both: Would you rather have respect from your peers and critical acclaim (but not making cash from writing), or would you rather be a bestselling author with the fat coin?

Respect from my peers and critical acclaim! No contest. For people with full stomachs, money is the biggest lie of all.

10) Bonus question: So what are you working on right now creatively, or what do you plan to delve into in the near future?

Well, the novel is sitting, waiting. It’s a series of past tense short stories wedded to a present tense narrative that I am tweaking to form into a novel— and whether I’ll be successful or not is yet to be seen. It is called “The Loose Fish Lessons” (Loose Fish being a reference fromMoby Dick):

1. A fast fish belongs to the party fast to it. (nearest to it)

2. A loose fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it.

"...these two laws touching Fast Fish and and Loose-Fish will.on reflection be found in the fundamentals of all human jurisprudence . . . what are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What are all men's minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish too?"
Moby Dick
Herman Melville

My book is a non-chronological story of a woman’s journey to reconcile with family and self. Or maybe with truth. Or both. There’s a lot of lies in it at the moment. I have a long way to go but it’s my project for the near future. But who knows? Life is full of surprises. I also have a screenplay that needs a rewrite, and another to finish. And I haven’t written a poem in months. It’s a smorgasbord of words ‘out there.’ I tend to ride the horse in the direction it’s going, so I’m just planning to finish the last Ink Pot, and then get up and giddyup.

You ask all the good questions. And you sure give head-swelling introductions. Thanks for the interview, Susan.


Amanda Auchter said...

How wonderful. Yes, she is fabulous and lovely. I love Ink Pot (and love that they love my poems). Great interview!

dennis mahagin said...

Awesome interview!

Really enjoyed the part about Truth and Lies. Money vs. Acclaim is an interesting dichotomy as well. Thought-provoking stuff! ;)

Katie said...

Excellent interview!

Justin said...

enjoyed the hell out of that interview...

Fred said...

Right on, sistah.


Ellen said...

Love seeing inside Bev's head! Thanks for this. I also want to add that in addition to being a great literary mag, Ink Pot was the gold standard in terms of treating writers with respect. Bev rocks.
-Ellen M.

Myfanwy Collins said...

LOVE this!

1EightT said...

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